Dreams of Fresh Vegetables

Happy New Year! The New year always brings with it the thoughts of fresh starts and new beginnings, dreams of fresh vegetables…
It’s January 26th and we just had our first snowstorm of the 2016 season over the weekend The National Weather Service had been touting it a ‘historic’ storm making me skeptical that we would even get any snow.  As it turns out, we had about 16 inches dumped in our backyard and NYC broke historic records but Snowstorm Jonas only ranked #2 in that area overall.  Officials were worried about the potential for flooding as Saturday was also a full moon event and thankfully the winds switched from coming from the northeast to north alleviating much of the well-founded concerns. They predicted the worse of the storm would by in the Washington, DC area, which certain did get hit but the storm cruised up the coast and targeted New York City before heading out to sea.  Queens hit the hardest had upwards of 30”+.  As it turns out Snowstorm Jonas took 30 lives from start to finish, putting states as far south as Georgia and Tennessee on state of emergency. As of last night news, many people in the outer boroughs of New York were still trapped in because of snow-clogged streets.
Marley checking out the garden
Everything looks okay here
Looks like it could use more hay
The aftermath of #snowstormjonas

A thick blanket of snow

The day before the storm I took a walk in our backyard to survey everything before the fresh white blanket would cover everything.  I put some hay down on a few beds and containers I had neglected earlier this winter or looked a little thin, particularly for what was heading out way. I enjoyed the quiet before the storm and started to think about last year’s garden as it pertains to this year’s garden.  Remembering the beds filled with vines of cucumbers, squashes and cherry tomatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers and heirloom tomatoes. Right now it’s a blank canvas.

Since Christmas there as been an influx of seed catalogs being delivered to our mailbox. I love sitting with a stack of these catalogs on dreary winter days and dream about the delicious and beautiful possibilities we can have in our garden.  It’s difficult not to want to fill up the garden with delectable varieties of heirloom tomatoes. My eyes widen as I glance through the beautiful and enticing photos, wanting to plant more and more every year.  We had a client this year who bought so many plants for her garden that we had to make the garden grow space bigger with grow bags since she didn’t have enough room in the raised beds.  This year I purposely didn’t open any catalogs up until I drew out my detailed plan for year’s garden first.  We use crop rotation as a method of organic gardening. Crop rotations lessen the chances of soil borne diseases from building up.  We always amend our soil before growing but planting things in the same place year in and year out leads to trouble.  Things may continue to grow but not as prolifically and may even die off once they have started depending upon how severe the soil situation has gotten.  Same place year in year out leads to nothing but trouble and more work for the home gardener, which can be easily avoided by implementing a simple crop rotation. 

I printed out a copy of last year’s garden to remind myself of things – it’s difficult keeping 20+ clients gardens straight and I tend to forget about my own record keeping at times. There is a fabulous garden planner online called Mother Earth News Vegetable Garden Planner – we highly recommend it! 

We love growing things that we can preserve and can– allowing us to enjoy our harvests well after the season has passed.  Last year we made a lot soups, as well as our traditional sauces.  Some of the new things we tried were huge hits with the family and will be added to this year’s roster of things to grow.  I highly recommend growing something new and different each season – even if you think you are not fond of something try growing it first before you make up your mind completely.  I say this because for most of my adult life I thought I hated summer squash that is until I grew it myself.  Perhaps its because I was a city-kid and didn’t always get the freshest of vegetables or perhaps the variety of squash available to me in the mass market of grocery stores offered a bland variety which traveled well and looked good but had little flavor. I tend to think it is more the latter since studies show that the produce we purchase at the grocery store has traveled on average 1500 miles before reaching our hands!

Some of the repeated favorites that had a second or third go round in our garden included growing our own potatoes.  After a few years of growing potatoes and last year doing it both in grow sacks and in the raised bed – I will always grow our potatoes in grow sacks – we harvested many more in the sacks than we did in the garden. Plus it was a royal pain in the ass to harvest the potatoes from the raised beds – having to carefully hand dig them up so as not to harm the potato.  The grow bags I simply dump the bags out over our sifter we made for sifting compost and collect the used soil to spread somewhere else for reuse.  Again the flavors from the different varieties are unmatched by anything available in the grocery store – plus growing potatoes has got to be one of the easiest vegetables to grow, particularly in grow bags where you can eliminate some of the pest problems that can plague in ground grown potatoes.  We also grew corn last year – our third year growing corn. Last year’s harvest was pretty good but I think this summer I will go back to the Three Sisters bed and couple corn up with beans and squashes.  The 3 Sisters is an ancient Indian organic farming method that employs the usage of companion plants to benefit one another. The beads provide nitrogen for the squash and corn while the corn provides support for the beans to grow and the squash protects the soil from weeds and protects the crops from critters with their thorny vines.

Last summer we tried a whole bunch of new things including spaghetti squash and sweet potatoes. Loved, loved, Loved – the sweet potatoes! Yes we grew our own sweet potatoes – two different varieties New Jersey Yellow and Okinawan Purple. Many people confuse sweet potatoes with yams and I will address the differences and confusion in another blog post very soon. We also grew Brussels sprouts – these delicious treats took a while to mature but it was well worth the wait.  I even cut down the last of the stalks right before the storm and harvest a number of baby sized Brussels sprouts; what they lack in size, I am sure they will make up in flavor.  I have definitely noticed that the flavor in homegrown food is so much tastier than anything bought at the store.  When I first started growing carrots and these little things came out of the ground as opposed to a 6 inch long carrot – it didn’t make much of a difference when it came to taste – it was like concentrated carrot!

New things this season I would like to include would be melon – although we’ve grown watermelon before, the sugar box small ones in containers in the past quite successfully – I would like to try growing a cantaloupe.  Varieties like a Golden Jenny catch my eye; described by the Rare Seeds catalogas “an outstanding golden meated version …short vines go wild with succulent sweet 2 lbs beauties… Early and productive.” Who wouldn’t want to grow those?! Or another variety called “Collective Farm Woman” described as an heirloom from the Ukraine that the “melons ripens to a yellowish gold and the white flesh has a very high sugar content. Ripens early even in Russia and tolerates comparatively cool summers.” We had cool summers for the last two seasons, so this perks my interest.  I get lost in descriptions of some of the possibilities – words like succulent, sweet and prolific pull me in.  I love the stories associated with some of the varieties and the names like Drunken Woman Frizzy Headed Lettuce, Paul Robeson and Mortgage Lifter catch my eye as I peruse the pages of food porn.  Learning the history behind the fruits and vegetables adds to my enjoyment of planning out the gardens.
One thing I plan on including in the garden this summer is a sunflower garden. I love to include sunflowers since they add a certain majestic beauty to the garden. I’m looking to include many varieties with colors ranging from the pale yellows of a Giant Primrose to the bold reds seen in a Red Sun.  Along with the sunflowers we’ll include pole beans that will happily run up the strong stalks and help them stand tall throughout the season. 
Flowers are an important part of the garden and including edible flowers such as sunflowers, nasturtiums, pansies and many other varieties can do double duty in the garden providing nectar for pollinating bees and color to the garden as well as delicious treats to add to your own meals. 
There are 6 weeks until spring officially starts, I know they will whizz by in the blink of an eye despite being cold and snowy.  Time waits for no one and it’s the perfect time to dream and plan.
“A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms. – Zen Shin

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